During a trip to Canada last month, Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy proudly described the company as an international publishing house with programs in all of the major English-language markets. “Our vision is that each local publishing program should be finding the voices for the country it is in and then allowing the rest of Simon & Schuster to hopefully internationalize those voices and bring them to the rest of the world,” she said. But until recently one market was missing: Canada. What brought Reidy to Toronto, however, was a celebration of putting that last piece of the puzzle in place, with the official launch of Simon & Schuster Canada’s new domestic publishing program.
Simon & Schuster Canada has been operating since 2002, but due to Canadian restrictions on foreign ownership in cultural industries, the company was allowed to market and sell international books in the country but was prohibited from publishing Canadian books there. S&S Canada president and publisher Kevin Hanson made the best of it, shepherding Canadian authors to the company’s imprints in the U.S., but when the government announced a review of its policies, he made it known that S&S Canada wanted to publish domestically. When the government approved the company’s application in May, S&S Canada lost no time, coming out with a list of three books for fall 2013.
During a recent interview with Reidy and Hanson in S&S Canada’s Toronto office, Hanson said the list will grow “organically” and that there isn’t a timetable to reach a particular size. “My view is... that good publishing is finding good books and great authors and then supporting them as much and as deeply as you have to. And the worst kind of publishing is racing to build a list to a number and then not necessarily supporting all those books properly.” The small launch list, Hanson noted, has two titles that are very ambitious projects. In Canada, S&S has now printed 90,000 copies of Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout’s A House in the Sky, a memoir about her long ordeal as a hostage in Somalia. Hanson said Lindhout and coauthor Sara Corbett are touring extensively across the country throughout the fall. The book was an immediate bestseller in Canada, and Hanson believes it is going to be an important backlist title. Similarly, he has great expectations and big plans for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hockey history book, A Great Game, which was released on November 5.
The third fall book from S&S Canada is a debut novel from Toronto-based writer Ian Thornton, The Great & Calamitous Tale of Johan Thom. Hanson said the company is committed to finding new Canadian voices, as well providing a new choice for established Canadian authors who want to reimagine how their books can be published. Hanson recently brought on Martha Sharpe, formerly the publisher at House of Anansi Press, as editorial director of S&S Canada, and said that he has plans to hire an additional acquiring editor in the near future. Four books are on the division’s spring list: Death of a Patriot by Don Gutteridge is set to be published in January, and three more are slated for April publication—Deryn Collier’s Open Secret, Lucy Clarke’s A Single Breath, and Trevor Ferguson’s The River Burns.
An example of the organic growth Hanson has in mind, he said, is that S&S Canada bought two books at auction in recent weeks that its current acquiring team of Hanson, associate publisher Alison Clarke, and editor Phyllis Bruce won after being impressed by the manuscripts: a nonfiction work on motherhood by Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be; and Roughneck, a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire. Canadian rights for Heti’s book were being auctioned separately by Holt, which had world English rights, so S&S Canada bought that one independently, but acquired the Lemire title jointly with S&S in the U.S.
“There’s no reason to stop what we’re doing now,” said Reidy, speaking of the copublishing deals between Canada and the U.S. “The difference really is that [S&S Canada] now has an editorial staff that’s going to be looking specifically for Canadian voices, and they won’t have to interest an American imprint in order to buy it. They will still want to and try to, but they won’t have to.”
Hanson noted that one benefit of having worked under the previous government restrictions was that “it forced us to [develop] deep relationships with the publishing groups within the U.S.” That, he said, will help open doors when he wants to bring Canadian authors to those publishers’ attention. Reidy added that the Canadian team’s success building markets in Canada for authors such as Jodi Picoult and Kate Morton will also help. “Canada has a bigger market share [of some authors’ titles] than it should by population,” Reidy said; she attributes this fact to the S&S Canada team’s efforts to determine how to “make those books really appeal to Canadians.” As a result, “There’s a level of gratitude on the part of the American publishers for what they’ve done.”
Reidy also outlined S&S’s new international approach to digital publishing. Although each S&S division is charged with finding new voices to publish in its home country, she explained that if the company holds world rights in English for a given title, the e-book edition will be published simultaneously in different markets. One of the challenges of this approach, she acknowledged, is looking for ways to bring attention to titles that are available as e-books in a given country but are not available in print there. “It’s a new concept,” she said. “It’s partially born out of some of these self-published authors whom we’ve taken over, and whom we thought were very American, and it’s turned out they are selling all around the world.”
Despite the slowing of e-book sales growth, Reidy said she still sees tremendous potential internationally, pointing to the fact that the company has sold at least one e-book in each of 200 countries around the world so far in 2013. “Once digital reading is established all around the world, the potential that you have to sell a voice anywhere is really phenomenal.”